Dechinta Bush University, Denendeh (NWT)

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Dechinta Bush University, Denendeh (NWT)

$500,000 - $1 million
Project Summary
Elevator Pitch

Concise Summary: Help us pitch this solution! Provide an explanation within 3-4 short sentences.

Dechinta was born out a desire to decolonize education opportunities in Denendeh and beyond- to shape a respectful and healing community of learning honoring place and the diversity of our communities. After gathering an advisory circle of northern leaders, research was undertaken to identify barriers to post-secondary. Dechinta then designed and tested an intergenerational land-based university credited program focused on critical issues facing northern communities rooted in family learning. We have now offered multiple semesters and have five accredited university courses, a youth program and are expanding due to student demand. Our Vision is dynamic, sustainable and self-determining Northern communities where human capacity is rooted in indigenous knowledge and values. Dechinta supports a new generation of leaders and researchers by providing accessible and practical learning and development experiences, respectful of traditional ways, in a taiga bush environment. Imagine skidooing eight hours along the shores of the eighth largest freshwater lake in the world with your semester community aged 18 months to 94 years old. Learning place names and stories along the way, the next six weeks are spent in collaborative challenge: reading indigenous political theory, tanning moose hides, hunting, trapping, collecting medicines, making films. Learning in a fire circle with elders, leaders and professors- Dechinta is a place where everyone has something to learn and something to teach. Sustainability is tactile- the off-grid lodge houses wild-harvested feasts, arts, film nights and permaculture gardens. Students and faculty bring their children for an outdoor-immersive culture/ language camp integrated, integral and informing the university program. Families learn collectively, with our children and elders informing our discussions and actions. Students earn university credit, but more so a respect for the processes of living and working in a healthy community. The curriculum includes colonization and decolonization, sustainable communities including hands-on processes such as installing and testing renewable energy systems. We study Dene law, health promotion and explore processes such as land-claims and truth and reconciliation. Through these collective learning experiences, Dechinta build skills and capacity for a stronger future. ‘Transformative’ and ‘Life-changing’ are the words people use to tell of their experiences here. Students are leading in their communities and returned armed with knowledge and experience resulting in strength, pride and critical thinking skills. Dechinta believes that the richness of the North is not below the ground, but in the knowledge and vision of the First Nations, Métis and Inuit who have been here since time immemorial. Through the process of Dechinta, we are building skills and innovating for a stronger future. Dechinta is growing a dedicated community of changemakers. The expanding alumni, elders, professors, volunteers and researchers from over 17 different First Nations, and an expanding network of partners from such as the Dene Nation, UBC, U of A and the Truth and Reconciliation Commission speak to the results of the past programming and the impact it is having on all participants to create discussions, public debate, innovation and change in the ways we approach ‘education’. Each program is an active site of participatory research, governance and growth as the community learns how to support, sustain and ensure a safe environment to tackle the toughest issues. Through sharing, study , hunting, setting nets, the land becomes a powerful teacher. You can watch more about the impact of Dechinta through these CBC links:
listen to Dechinta on the Sunday Edition and read the extensive student blog

About You
About You
First Name


Last Name

Freeland Ballantyne

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About You, Your Group, or Your Organization

Dechinta Bush University: Centre for Research and Learning


, NT

Please confirm that this project could benefit First Nations, Métis and Inuit Peoples


Twitter URL
What categories best describe who your group or organization serves (check all that apply)

First Nations people, Métis people, Inuit people, First Nations, Métis and Inuit people, Other.

What best describes your group or organization

Community group or youth group, Cultural and language program, Early childhood (e.g. daycare, preschool), Elementary or Secondary school, University, Technical Institute or College, Non-profit organization.

How long have you, your group, or your organization been operating?

1‐5 years

Define your idea / project in 1-2 short sentences

Land-based university designed to meet northern needs and challenges, lead by elders leaders and professors: family friendly, resilient, transformative

Select the stage that best applies to your solution

Established (it has been running for a while, has grown and know it is making a difference)

Social Impact
Please tell us about the social impact of your idea or proect

Dechinta inspires and connects learners committed to social transformation through education. Weaving a network of mentorship, Dechinta alumni are leading change in their home Nations and inspiring new ways of learning and teaching which honors Indigenous Knowledge and worldviews with both Indigenous and Non-Indigenous people. Dechinta has made the dream of a northern university a reality and has sparked policy debates and discussion about education on a k-postsecondary level. Dechinta inspires, supporting First Nations knowledge sharing to innovate, lead change and be a crucial part of social transformation and sustainable development in Canada. Though a learning community of First Nations, Inuit, Metis and non-indigenous learners and teachers, Dechinta offers a safe space of sharing.

Your Future Goal(s): Tell us what you hope to achieve with your idea or project in the next year

In the next year Dechinta is offering two full semesters in summer and fall with additional short-course and community training

In 5 years, what will be different as a result of your idea/project?

In five years, Denendeh will be home to a leading Indigenous Education Institution, granting degrees and inspiring leaders to use the knowledge and capacity to build healthy and resilient communities. Youth will be proud and strive to achieve success rooted in land-based practices, supported by an educational journey which supports Indigenous knowledge as valuable. Self-determination, decolonization healing, and self-sufficiency will be realized and supported through an new generations of leaders empowered to realize their dreams. Dechinta will support continued research in areas of sustainable development, self-government, health and resilience, resulting in a northern lead think-tank and research centre supporting new knowledge and connecting with initiatives across the globe.

Tell us about the people/ partnerships that are already involved and why they are important to your idea or project.

Dechinta has a host of important partners:
Deton'cho Corporation, the economic development arm of the Yellowknife Dene First Nations support research to understand the social and economomic development impacts of a land-based university.
Dene Nation support curriculum development and advises on content and elder council guidance
The University of Alberta, Faculty of Native Studies credits our courses
The University of McGill is in the process of approving our courses for credit
We have research relationships and partnerships with the Department of Education, Culture and Employment, GNWT, Indigenous Governance UVIC, UVIC Law, UBC, The Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada, Living Through the Arts, Royal Conservatory of Music and the Institute for Circumpolar Health Research

If there are other people/partners that you will reach out to tell us who they are and why they will be important to your idea or project.

Dechinta is continually expanding our faculty with supportive elders and professors from across the country and abroad. We will reach out to new grass-roots partners and project for our at-home-in-the-world course, such as the Sami University and programs in NZ. We are connecting to expand our programs to other communities as Alumni work to spread the vision of land-based learning.

Describe the kinds of support you receive (other than money) or will need to support your idea or project (e.g.: donated, space, equipment and volunteers)

We receive huge amounts of in-kind time from leaders, elders and professors, flight and facilities discounts, film and communications equipment and faculty, and many volunteers, including alumni.
Dechinta is currently fundraising 10M for an endowment and facilities fund. We are also offering our courses as short courses for community leaders and professionals to support our student scholarship fund. Our organization relies heavily on the in-kind time of a working board, staff who volunteer and alumni who serve as interns. We have been able to attract established professors to volunteers, as well as many First Nations and Metis leaders to participate as mentors and guest speakers. Core funding is always a challenge, and we continue to receive space, equipment and expertise in-kind.

Do you currently have funding for your idea or project?

Yes (answer the next two questions)